1:34 p.m. EDT
MR. CROWLEY: Carrying on, as we do here at the Department of State, the Secretary has arrived in Hanoi following a stopover in Guam, where she met with the governor, and also, as you saw, had remarks to and paid tribute to the troops who are stationed at Guam.
Upon her arrival this evening in Hanoi, she met with Vietnamese Prime Minister Dung to discuss both bilateral and regional issues. Tomorrow, she will have a breakfast meeting with counterparts from the Lower Mekong Initiative Countries of Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia; discuss regional challenges in health, education, and the environment. She’ll have a couple of bilaterals as well, I believe, including the president of Korea, as well as her counterpart, Foreign Minister Lavrov. I’m going to have full clarity on her schedule tomorrow.
And then she will, having attended the dinner of the East Asia Summit this evening, she’ll also represent President Obama tomorrow as a guest of the chair and the first-ever participation in the East Asia Summit. And comprehensive discussions will also follow with her Vietnamese counterpart, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Khiem. And there, we expect to get into expanded discussion and that will include the human rights situation in Vietnam.
Turning to Africa, Special Envoy Scott Gration today met with former Prime – former South African President Thabo Mbeki and they also – who is holding meetings with the parties as we continue to push for full implementation of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement. Full implementation of the CPA provides the best chance for preventing a return to conflict between the North and the South, and we are determined to avoid both destabilization or delay. And we continue to push the parties to resolve outstanding issues, including Abyei, and to take responsibility for ensuring preparations for a peaceful and on-time referendum.
Turning to Somalia, we are horrified by reports of the execution of teenage girls accused of spying, and the United States condemns in the strongest possible terms Al-Shabaab’s (inaudible) murders. We offer our deepest sympathy and condolences to the families of the victims. And this makes clear that Al-Shabaab continues to deprive the Somali people of security, peace, and stability.
With that, Bobby.
QUESTION: P.J., on the indications that Iran has told the EU that they’re ready to have some talks over the nuclear program, is there any reason to expect that it would be more fruitful than it was a year ago when they went through this process?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, first of all, we welcome the Iranian response to Catherine Ashton. They have indicated in principle a willingness to have a follow-on meeting to the one held just over a year ago. And I’ll defer to Catherine Ashton’s office in terms of whatever follow-up they will do with the Iranians in choosing a date and location for that meeting.
It is something that we have long sought, to have a sustained engagement, sustained discussions with Iran on a range of issues. And we hope that Iran will work with Catherine Ashton’s office to rapidly confirm a specific date and location so that we can have the kind of meeting that we did have a year ago, and anticipated a year ago that we’d have follow-on discussions. Unfortunately, a year has gone on before we have the chance to further this discussion.
QUESTION: My question is: Why would you expect that it would be more fruitful than it was last time when nothing happened?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we’ll see. We – it’s a very fair question, Bob, and the answer is we don’t know. We would hope that Iran would come to the table prepared for a meaningful engagement. We had strong signs a year ago when the first meeting took place. We thought it was a constructive engagement. We thought we went through areas of substance. From that meeting, Tehran expressed interest in the Tehran research reactor proposal, and unfortunately, there was no follow-up. So the P-5+1 will be at the table whenever this meeting does take place, prepared to engage seriously, and we hope that Iran will do the same.
QUESTION: Is it a fair assessment that the bite that you keep on saying that the sanctions are having on the Iranian economy has anything to do with their willingness now to come back to the table?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I don’t want to get too far ahead of the process here. What Iran has signaled is that it’s willing to have a discussion now about a date and a location. We hope that this can be confirmed rapidly. But when we get to having an actual meeting, we would hope that Iran will be prepared to have a serious discussion, but we’ll just see what happens.
QUESTION: Different topic?
QUESTION: Change topics?
MR. CROWLEY: Same topic?
QUESTION: Can we change --
MR. CROWLEY: Different topic.
MR. CROWLEY: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Just in the – in your opening remarks, you mentioned that Secretary Clinton raised human rights issues with Vietnam. Are there specific cases, specific issues that you think she would raise?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, there have been some recent instances where journalists, bloggers, other activists have been arrested. This is contrary to Vietnam’s own commitment to internationally accepted standards of human rights and including the freedom of speech. So we will – we’re prepared to have this kind of detailed discussion with Vietnam.
QUESTION: A little bit beyond that, in her remarks in Honolulu yesterday, she specifically mentioned Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo. Do you expect in her consultations in Hainan that she would raise this case in particular?
MR. CROWLEY: Let’s see what happens in the meeting, but we do discuss human rights with China in all of our meetings. The meeting with Chairman Dai is in the context of preparing for the state visit to the United States by Hu Jintao early next year, and we expect that human rights will be part of that discussion.
We have and will continue to express to China our concern about the restrictive treatment of civil society actors and political dissidents in China. We expect China to treat its people in accordance with the – its constitution and established international norms, including the right for peaceful expression of political opinion. And as – and we have indicated our support for the award of the Nobel Prize, and I’m sure this will come up in these discussions.
QUESTION: Is that in groups or --
QUESTION: China – China issue --
QUESTION: Is that in groups – I’m sorry.
MR. CROWLEY: Hold on. Hold on, Goyal.
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah.
QUESTION: The Chinese Foreign Minister – Ministry spokesman Ma expressed serious concern and strong dissatisfaction in response to Secretary Clinton saying that the Senkaku Island falls within the scope of Article 5 of the U.S.-Japan security treaty. How do you respond to this?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, the Secretary outlined our position during, I think in the media availability that followed her meeting with Foreign Minister Maehara. The United States does not take a position on the question of the ultimate sovereignty of the Senkakus Islands, but we do, because of the administration of these islands by Japan as a result of the reversion of – to – of Okinawa in 1972, we do see the Senkakus within the scope of Article 5 of the treaty that we have with Japan. But we would just simply continue to encourage China and Japan to have a thoughtful, considered dialogue and resolve these issues.
QUESTION: Ma also said that the China will not be bound by the decision taken by the other countries under the cover of the treaty that he claims a relic of the Cold War. And also, he follows that the U.S. and Japan have no business deciding things that are clearly in the unilateral interest of China only. So how would you respond to this?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, as I just said, we recognize that there is an open question of sovereignty and we expect that to be resolved between Japan and China through dialogue.
QUESTION: Different topic?
QUESTION: May I do a quick follow-up on this?
MR. CROWLEY: Hang on. Yeah.
QUESTION: I appreciate what you’re saying, but, I mean, the China has kind of directly criticized the U.S. I mean, is this a source of – are you concerned that during Clinton’s trip there that China has openly criticized the U.S.? I mean, does this not create certain tension at a time when --
MR. CROWLEY: Well --
QUESTION: -- everything’s doing – being said to say that everything’s great?
MR. CROWLEY: This is not a new issue. As I say, this issue has been with us for almost four decades, and the issue of sovereignty goes back to the end of World War II. We simply believe that this is an issue between China and Japan, and it should be resolved through respectful dialogue. And we would hope that both sides will take steps, as they did in recent weeks, to reduce tension rather than escalate tension. And hopefully, this will lead to a peaceful dialogue between the two countries.
QUESTION: So would the response be, “Take it up with Japan, it’s none of our business,” or – I mean, because --
MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, we have a policy. The Secretary restated our policy, both which covers – well, we believe our mutual responsibilities under the treaty that we have with Japan. We have also made clear that we do not take a position on the ultimate sovereignty of the islands, but we would encourage the two countries to sit down and resolve this.
QUESTION: Going back as far as human rights are concerned, do you consider, as far as China, human rights and religious freedom is the same? Because Amnesty International and Freedom House are calling that when Secretary meets with Chinese officials, she should raise the issue of religious freedom there.
MR. CROWLEY: This is part of an ongoing dialogue that we have with China. Assistant Secretary Mike Posner is in China as we speak. We talked earlier this year about the formal Human Rights Dialogue that we had with China, which included discussion about the relationship between organized religion and the state. So these are issues that come up on a regular basis in our interaction with China.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?
MR. CROWLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: What is Assistant Secretary Posner doing in China right now?
MR. CROWLEY: I’ll come back to – keep – give me a second, I’ll find it – all right. Well, he’s on an extended trip in China dealing with labor issues and the full range of his portfolio.
QUESTION: Is he expected to meet officials or --
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t have a detailed readout, but he – this is – might be even the third trip that he’s made to China this year.
QUESTION: Including the press freedom – freedom of the press?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, yes, Goyal. If you look at what we do in what we call DRL, it’s democracy, labor issues, human rights issues, freedom of expression, freedom of the press. These are all fundamental issues. They’re enshrined in universal declarations that we are a party to, that China is a party to as well.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir.
QUESTION: Change topics?
MR. CROWLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: Palestinian-Israeli peace talks. P.J., some details are beginning to emerge about ongoing, behind-the-scenes talks between Americans and Israelis about the borders of the Palestinian state, about leasing areas of Jerusalem, occupied East Jerusalem, leasing areas, and the Jordan Valley and so on for the talks to go on. Could you share with us some of these details?
MR. CROWLEY: No. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Could you deny that they are on – could you --
MR. CROWLEY: Well --
QUESTION: -- confirm that they are ongoing?
MR. CROWLEY: As I – as we have talked about, we continue to have detailed discussions with the parties. There are things that are floating out. I would just caution you that my reluctance to comment does not – should not be seen as lending credence to any particular report. But we have said from the outset that we are not going to negotiate the details of the different components of an ultimate agreement in the public, and we won’t.
QUESTION: Could you confirm that part of these ongoing discussions is the letter that former President Bush gave to former Israeli prime minister – letter of assurances – Ariel Sharon back in 2004?
MR. CROWLEY: No. I won’t confirm that either.
QUESTION: P.J., on Lebanon, a Lebanese newspaper has referred to European diplomats who said that the U.S. is putting pressure to get a special tribunal for Lebanon’s prosecutor general Daniel Bellemare to issue his indictments even before its due date because as they referred to Assistant Secretary Feltman saying that this will help or this will protect the U.S. camp in the region and stop all kinds of pressure on Hariri. Can you confirm that?
MR. CROWLEY: Look, we are not putting any pressure on the special tribunal at all. The tribunal was created at the request of the Lebanese Government to the United Nations, and it’s a professional and independent tribunal with a mandate from the United Nations Security Council and the support of the international community. We are not, have not, and will not seek to influence the tribunal’s work. As we have said all along, the tribunal will be allowed to operate on its own timeframe and free from foreign interference. And politicizing and interfering with the work of the tribunal does not serve the interest of the Lebanese people. Efforts to discredit, hinder, or politicize the tribunal’s work serve only to increase instability and tensions inside Lebanon as well as in the region and should not be tolerated. And we condemn threats as yet another maneuver by Hezbollah to try to deny the Lebanese people the truth and justice that they deserve.
There’s a presentation by Hassan Nasrallah that somehow one has to choose between justice and stability. And we reject that as a false choice. The special tribunal was created to investigate a heinous crime and to end impunity for these crimes. And unless and until Lebanon is able to end impunity for these crimes it will be extremely difficult to achieve the peace and stability that all the Lebanese people deserve. That may well be Hassan Nasrallah’s purpose, but it’s not ours.
QUESTION: To what extent you are concerned about the security and about the whole situation in Lebanon?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we are paying significant attention to Lebanon because we are concerned about the increase of tension there for a variety of reasons, including anticipation of the end of the tribunal’s work. We don’t know when that will occur. The tribunal should be free to work in its own timetable, arrive at a fair judgment, and then announce its findings. And we reject any attempt to politicize or intimidate the tribunal, as we condemned the attack on the tribunal staff earlier this week.
QUESTION: But how can you help the Lebanese Government?
MR. CROWLEY: We are helping the Lebanese Government. We’re demonstrating our resolve to work with the Lebanese Government to protect its sovereignty and to reject sub-state actors who are trying to undermine the Lebanese Government and Lebanese sovereignty.
QUESTION: Sarah Palin has apparently taken some exception with your tweets this morning, wishing President Ahmadinejad happy birthday. I was curious if you had any rebuttal or explanation (inaudible).
MR. CROWLEY: Well, my tweet was simply to suggest that a reasonable celebration of President Ahmadinejad’s birthday would be to release Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal. I can’t imagine why Sarah Palin would object to the release of the two hikers who remain in custody, we think, inappropriately.
QUESTION: Do you think she’s lacking a sense of irony on tweets? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I think she was more taking exception with the fact that you wished him a happy birthday.
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t have any particular comment.
QUESTION: Secretary Clinton in a speech yesterday talked about you supporting the need to establish international commission of inquiry against Burma. Can you give us a sense what steps U.S. is taking and the UN for this commission to be set up? And do you see and feel any sense of lobbying by China against this commission?
MR. CROWLEY: This is being framed, I think, in a way that’s inappropriate. We support convening of a council of inquiry. We are consulting with countries on how to move forward. We understand that a range of countries have a variety of views of what’s happening in Burma. And some have expressed support for the committee of inquiry, and others are hesitating, and they could be hesitating for 25 different reasons. There was a suggestion that they were being intimidated by one country. We don’t see it that way.
We are – and we do believe that looking ahead, people are going to see an unfortunate election in early November in Burma that lacks credibility, that cannot be viewed as free and fair. And we believe that as we continue this discussion, we’ll come to a consensus with the international community on how to proceed in putting appropriate scrutiny on Burma for what’s happening within the country.
QUESTION: So have you spoken to China specifically on this particular issue? On this particular issue, have you spoken to Chinese officials?
MR. CROWLEY: I can’t say what conversations have occurred at this point. We are consulting broadly. I’m not going to rule out that we’ve had a conversation with Chinese officials. I just don’t know.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment about a package that was discovered on a plane that originated in Yemen, and it had white powder all over it, wires and a circuit card attached?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think there’s an investigation going on. I’ll defer to the Department of Homeland Security.
QUESTION: Can you go back to the Lebanese issue?
QUESTION: I just need a short follow-up on Burma.
MR. CROWLEY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Is it consistent with the engagement policy to also pursue a commission of inquiry? Can the two simultaneously be pursued?
MR. CROWLEY: Yes. I mean, we are open to engagement with Burma but we continue to have concern about what is happening there, the ongoing detention of a very significant number, over 2,000 political prisoners. So we can walk and chew gum at the same time, yes.
QUESTION: If we can go back to the Lebanese issue?
MR. CROWLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up to Michel’s question. Did you read or hear the speech by Hassan Nasrallah? Did you read or --
MR. CROWLEY: I’ve read accounts of it, yes.
QUESTION: He warned – basically, he warned – he warned all against cooperating with the court. Do you expect that to disrupt the proceedings in any way?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we would hope not. We are committed to support the work of the tribunal and we’ll do everything that we can to – not to influence it, just to give it the opportunity to continue its work. This is vitally important to Lebanon’s future. Lebanon has suffered perhaps more than any other country, with political assassinations over the years, the deaths of leaders, including Rafik Hariri. The impunity that groups who have tried to shape events in Lebanon has to stop. We are committed to Lebanon’s future. We are committed to support the government and Lebanon’s – Lebanese sovereignty. And the remarks of – Nasrallah’s remarks are an indication of how Hezbollah does not have the interest of all the American people – or, I’m sorry, all of the Lebanese people in mind. It has a narrow agenda and we will do everything that we can to help the Lebanese Government, the Lebanese people resist this obvious intimidation.
QUESTION: Would you expect or request the Lebanese Government to adopt extraordinary security measures as a result of the content of the speech?
MR. CROWLEY: Go back to what I said earlier. It was the Lebanese Government that requested the tribunal, it’s the Lebanese Government that is directly supporting the tribunal, and we will do everything in our power to both help the Lebanese Government and continue the international community’s commitment to support the work of the tribunal.
QUESTION: Can I just ask you on Sri Lanka, as far as tribunal is concerned, Amnesty International and the Sri Lankan community were calling on the UN and U.S. that crimes were committed by the government during this 25 years of war, especially now in the last one year, and the president was reelected in Sri Lanka.
MR. CROWLEY: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Is there some kind of talks about that investigation of crimes committed against innocent people?
MR. CROWLEY: We continue to encourage the Government of Sri Lanka to have a full accounting of the way in which the conflict ended. This is important to Sri Lanka’s future. Sri Lanka did have an election. The government now has all the authorities that it needs to lead Sri Lanka towards a future that involves reintegration of the various communities of Sri Lanka and moving ahead in a way that is in the interest of all of the people of Sri Lanka.
With that, the (inaudible) results and the obvious capabilities of the Sri Lanka Government becomes a special responsibility.
QUESTION: A question about that, going back to the China-Japan issue. It’s been reported in Asia that the Chinese delegation spokesman said that in explaining the decision of the Chinese premier not to meet with the Japanese prime minister, that the Japanese side misrepresented the Chinese Government position on natural gas exploration in the Pacific. But what’s your reaction from this podium about both the decision of the two leaders not to meet from the Chinese side, and also the issue that China raised over the natural gas?
MR. CROWLEY: Look, we want China and Japan to sit down to have dialogue and to work through the issues raised, both by the question of sovereignty and the recent tensions revolving around the collision of the Chinese and Japanese vessels. And we would hope that both countries will take affirmative steps to de-escalate tensions surrounding this issue and will create the conditions for a meaningful dialogue.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. CROWLEY: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:01 p.m.)
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